The following student essay was submitted as an entry in our scholarship essay contest. We will be announcing a winner next week, so please check back on Friday!
by Tate Fegley
There are several reasonable precautions pedestrians can take when crossing the street. A fantastic one that all of our parents told us when we were young is to look both ways before crossing. This should be done whenever crossing a street, even on a one way, as motorists have been known to miss traffic signs and looking both ways does not take any extra time.
Of course, it is advisable to use a designated crosswalk whenever one is able, especially on busy city streets. Many of these will have buttons for pedestrians to press to activate a pedestrian light signal and cause traffic to yield. However, lights are only signals and don’t present physical barriers to keep automobiles from traversing crosswalks when signals are lit. So again, it is important to look both ways before crossing the street, even when in a designated crosswalk with light signals. One should give special attention to vehicles that are allowed to make turns when the crosswalk is clear, such as right turns on a green light or left turns that are protected by a green arrow, as it’s possible that drivers may overlook pedestrians trying to cross, especially when it is dark (thus making it also wise to wear bright clothing). Some crosswalks offer orange, reflective flags for pedestrians to use in order to maximize their visibility. When using a crosswalk, it is best to make eye contact with the driver, if possible, to ensure that they are aware of your presence.
What about when there are no crosswalks? The same general precautions apply: look both ways, make sure you are visible, and make eye contact with drivers, if possible and advantageous. If you are in a situation where it is unlikely that cars will stop to allow pedestrians to cross, such as on a highway, take the applicable precautions and wait until you have an adequate amount of time to cross. Be patient. The risk-return ratio of saving a few seconds or even minutes is very low.
It should be noted that, as a pedestrian, right-of-ways don’t matter one bit in terms of your safety. The simple fact that you have the right-of-way does not prevent vehicles from colliding with you. Thus, you shouldn’t take anything for granted. There are distracted, inattentive, incompetent, and inebriated drivers on the road who don’t have pedestrian safety as their top priority. Treat every oncoming vehicle as a potential danger and don’t assume that the driver will see you and slow down. When away from the crosswalk, assume that vehicles will maintain their speed and may even accelerate and give yourself enough time to cross with these considerations in mind.
To summarize, there are several general precautions that can be used no matter what situation you find yourself in as a pedestrian trying to cross the street. One is to be aware of any oncoming traffic and look both ways. Another is to make oneself as visible as possible and wear bright clothing at night. A third is to use the available traffic control devices, such as crosswalks, light signals, and pedestrian flags, to one’s advantage but to remember that they are no guarantee of safety. A fourth is to not make the assumption that drivers are competent or can see you. Make eye contact when possible and give yourself enough distance between you and oncoming traffic when crossing the street outside of a crosswalk.